Posts Tagged 'sudden fiction'

The cookie trees

In March the winds blow cinnamon dust and coconut swirls. Little girls and big girls stand at automatic doors, holding out boxes, holding out order sheets. But the real cookies of spring are not Samoas, not Chinese fortunes, not the lucky sure-fire-can’t-lose fruit bars of your youth. The cookie that wins, the cookie that scores, the cookie that lives to tell the tale is the cookie that grows in trees. Organic, dusted with pinon, cinnamon and nutmeg, the cookie that grows in trees is aromatic and yet elusive. Children and the elderly alike want these cookies, pushing on parents’ legs pulling on trousers, saying you know you know the ones, they are like cooookies, like cookies and they have that stuff, you know that stuff, like grandpa used to make, that stuff it makes mom sneeze and they shake it out of a big shaker, only it grows in trees, take us to the cookie trees, the cookie trees in the desert where the bananas and the dates shake the desert floor, take us to where the cookie trees grow. And the parents shake their parent heads and scratch their parent chins and say what cookie trees are those and the children and the grandmas all sit up tall in bed and say you know the ones, the ones you always got, the ones with cinnamon, the ones that grow in trees, and eventually the parents put the pillows in the back seats and the fishy crackers in little bags and the dyed sugar water in coolers and they drive and drive out there into the middle of dry crack nowhere and suddenly out among the dust devils, the tumbleweeds and nothing much else the cookie trees arise, sweetly aromatic, unexpected, reaching out toward the children, reaching out toward the grandmas, sweet and dusty and waiting to be picked.

Sweet tooth

My father is a dentist and he loves you more than Jesus, because your father owns the candy store. The candy store is always between the cigar store and the liquor store, that’s what my cousin Lily Marie said when she was sixteen and went to the cigar store to buy cigarettes and ask old Ben Murphy, who was janitor at the City of Cocola Elementary School from 1954 til 1997, to buy her some Annie Greensprings Apple Wine. He died of sugar diabetes, old age, and pesticide accumulation, according to Lily Marie’s uncle Ed Loughlin, who was the only doctor in the City of Cocola.

I myself am glad your father owns the candy store, because it means that every kid in Cocola will eventually come into my father’s business, and I get to hand out the lollipops and the troll dolls that my dad the dentist gives out to any kid that doesn’t bite him or kick. There are a surprising number of kids who won’t bite or kick if they think they might get something for not doing it. My dad says that proves  they can control their heathen impulses and if it was up to him he’d beat every last one of them for their cowardly ways and it was just proof that the City of Cocola was founded by fools.

The City of Co-cola was founded in 1896 by Jebediah Wright, a candy and whisky maker who moved from Sioux City Iowa to Flagstaff just in time to not freeze to death that year and with enough provisions to make a good living for himself when he set up the next spring.


 (15 minutes, just a scrap of an idea)



Metaphor is the name of a wish that kept on starting and reaching the end of the line. The line started with a mistake, and the stations were marked with uncertainty. There was a train station in Metaphor and the wind howled. The howling wind and the rage of a girl named Meredith were married, carrying a wedding bouquet, a sob, a moan, and a wail that broke both down. Throw the bouquet, choke on the rice. Run.

When Meredith and the wind left town together there were hot sand and thrashing palm trees. The tracks ran from town to town, fast then slow, and the wind crossed the tracks, scar tissue holding the wounded together, pa-chunk, pa-chunk, through the long white nights. The music at the station was carried by dry sand, wind snaking through the open door of the El Dorado, 11 p.m. on a Saturday night in a small town in Nowhere, Arizona, where people came to run away and stayed until the next morning or until their teeth fell out and the keys to the jail dropped from their senseless fingers. Nowhere served a lot of breakfast, hope in the a.m. over easy with English muffin and a tiny glass of orange juice. Morning is different than night, Meredith found. Meredith learned more than she’d expected in Nowhere.

Trains run from Metaphor to Nowhere to Hope to Sweetwater to Euphoria to Paradise. Meredith rode them all, getting off finally in Future, California, where the trees bore coconuts and the lemon grass was bright and the smell of salt water was sweet. She bought pineapple with her first paycheck. She never looked back, not at the howling wind or the mistaken station, only forward at the trees waving on the boulevard near the ocean that promised salty sweet salty sweet, warm sand on damp toes, stars in the sky.


As a certified paranormal mind reader, I can sense more than you can imagine. Imagine that. You are sitting in your kitchen nook eating bagels with pickled herring, while I sit right next to you, too distracted by ghostly tap dancing, whirling fogs where no dry ice can be found, and the ululating wails of the permanently grieved. I haven’t had a decent bagel in years.

Once in a while, I sit one out, but it’s not up to me. It’s the spirits. I can leave my ghost-hunting equipment packed in a trunk in the attic of a distant relative’s home, but if they want to find me, the oscilloscope mysteriously turns up in my laundry basket, the night goggles are set on the nightstand next to the novel I won’t get to finish. The tape measure, slide rule, light net and safety goggle pack themselves in my suitcase, and whether I fly to Toronto, Rome or Little Rock, I know they will pursue me until I see them. Ready or not, here they come.

I’ve tried to decline, believe me. But the dead have time on their side, and they are both persistent and relentless. After a period of zig-zagging from city to city, trying to get away from the call, I get visions, reminders that I work for them, not the other way around. As a certified paranormal mind reader, I not only sense ghosts, feel and see and hear ghosts, I also read their minds and they love this. Ghosts love to be read more than anything else in the world.

Turn them down, if you dare. You will find blood spouting from your water-saver shower head. You will see glistening eyeballs staring at you from a plate of chicken livers, you will find spiders’ nests and trip wires lining the hall when you try to walk to the bathroom at 3 a.m. Feathers and whispers will tickle your ears, waking you incessantly. The teakettle won’t whistle, it’ll shriek like a pressure valve about to blow, the whipped cream will gasp and sob, and your bass guitar will tweedle like it’s been given a dose of helium. You cannot be cool with ghosts who are after your mind-reading abilities. They want to hear themselves think. You will read their minds, damn you, or they will claim yours, utterly and completely.


“We will leave you with your corkscrew and your friends,” Minnow said. Apparently it was the royal We who was leaving, as she’d arrived alone and left alone not ten minutes later. There was a flounce in the way she said it. She shuffled out the door though, a girl who’d never really learned how to flounce.

There’s one sort of fool as dense as a donkey. Minnow was that sort of fool. Accepted every invitation, declined every opportunity, made a sad, sorry fool of herself simply by being eager. Eagerness does not breed respect.

So when a crime was committed in their small northwestern town, there was a brief lag time between when the criminals settled down to enjoy their booty and when they realized that Minnow had been there, invited but invisible, through some very incriminating discussions.

Of course, you’d have to be a fool to believe you could commit a crime involving banks, money and small towns and think no one would recognize you. These boys were cousins to half the people in Sedro Wooley. Maybe they thought they’d be mistaken for another set of cousins. Or maybe they thought they’d be so unfamiliar in their ski masks that they’d just not be recognized at all.

In truth, though, the two of them stood out like a pair of turtles on an ox cart.

“In’t that Jimmy?” said the security guard as he sat watching the video with Dee, the lone afternoon teller, immediately after the heist. He’d missed the moment himself, having excused himself to go to the men’s room. Dee nodded, screwing up her face to look at the grainy video.

“Jimmy, yeah, I think so. Looks like Larry standing right behind him.” Dee was a cousin, a cousin who’d run with a different crowd. She was the more churchy type of cousin. Larry’d split her lip pushing her down on the playground in third grade. She might have forgotten that before, but it came back to her now as she watched him and Jimmy playing big bad bank robbers on video.  Dee and Ed, the security guard, were uncomfortable about busting their own cousins, third or by marriage or whatever. It was that small of a town. After a short, awkward pause, they overshot the video at just the point where it was obvious which set of village idiots had pulled this stunt. They’d talk to the boys’ dads, they figured, work things out in private. Might even turn out to be good for Dee and Ed, come to think of it.

Meanwhile, Minnow was being her usual, fish-out-of-water self. Hanging around at the video store near the mini mart, she was drinking a big gulp and eating corn nuts. She was a loud, unselfconscious snacker, crunching and slurping, and several people in the video store changed aisles to avoid contact. Down around the M section of action and adventure, she ran into Jimmy and Larry. Head on. Looking up from her bag of corn-nuts, she eyeballed the loot they’d put in their cart. Who gets a cart at the video store? She thought.  

“Hey,” she said. “What’d you do, finally rob that bank like you’re always saying?”

“Fuck,” said Larry.

“Shit,” said Jimmy.

They grabbed her by her skinny stick arms and dragged her out of the store, and such was the power of her invisibility that no one thought a thing about it. Went on a road trip that ended in a cabin that belonged to another cousin, and by the time Minnow was found,  the next spring, it took a couple days to thaw her out, that’s how iced she truly was.

Improvisation – A minor

Little Lyre was my first baby. She was selfish, envious and too tightly tuned. This may have been my lack of experience, but I think Lyre was just born that way. Each baby is born the way they are, and nurture might enhance or temper that little creature, but it is itself, separate from mom, be it human or otherwise.  Little Lyre had a thin and demanding voice, eventually mellowing into a sliding, wheedling light and bluesy sound – she did well on the jazz circuit and you may know her by a different name.

What you learn about babies and music is that each time is different, each time is a surprise. Each time is temporary. Babies and music are ephemeral – put your hand on this instrument, this child, and by the time you’ve taken two breaths – they are gone.

My second baby, Major Seventh, was challenging also. He had militaristic tendencies and it was only with difficulty that I convinced him to switch from the drums to the violin, which is precise and rule-bound in a way that I thought would help him control his aggression. And it did. He’s a nice man, formal and complete, and he rarely gives in to the pounding rages that characterized his relationship with the drum. With the violin, he learned to listen, and to finesse.

Baby Shakade was an international child – a singer, a shaker, a mover – and changed religions so fast that I never knew exactly who I was talking to. I say that, but with Shakade, listening took up far more of the conversation than talking. She is still singing, on the road. She is a smiler, young Shakade.

Zither Cheerios was my transitional child. What was I doing with my life? More music, more babies, more education, more traveling? I just couldn’t decide. Zither stuck with me through rich times and poor and the sound Zither makes, in her sleep, is even now the dearest music I’ve ever heard.

 My next child was named Viola Bassoon and her sister, Fecund Felicity, was a happy but unexpected twin. These two have opened a school together, and they teach music, both traditional and experimental, to children and adults in an open field in a farm somewhere other than here.

Eventually I had an entire orchestra of children and they were loud and tragic and funny and rude. They were expensive and soft and red-headed and bald. They were boys and girls and then men and women. They were talented and lazy and resentful and joyous. They were all the things an orchestra tends to be. They made harmonious and dissonant sounds, they played together and solo. They had scandals and tragedies. They had opportunities and disappointments. They had sheet music and improvisations. They had epiphanies and crescendos. They had codas, repeat and fade. My only regret is that I never got around to having Kazoo and Tambourine, a funny and affectionate duo that I thought would like to travel with me in a pop-up van when I am old and ready to travel around the country, singing and writing and making music to go with the western skies, the great gulf coast, and the northern stars. But who knows, they may still be on their way.

What about?


“Some people swore that the house was haunted.”

First he says, “The mortgage is upside down. There is nothing, let me repeat, nothing diabolical about that.”

She says, “Are you sure?”

He says, “What about the location?”

She says, “What about the creepy noises?”

He says, “What about the views?”

She says, “What about the footprints?”

He says, “What about the economy?”

She says, “What about the murder?”

He says, “What about the schools?”

She says, “What about the babies?” 

He says, “What about the interest rates?”

She says, “What about the banks?”

He says, “What about the appliances?”

She says, “What about the zombies?”

He says, “What about the low-e windows?”

She says, “What about the shadow of the weeping woman?”

She laughs. They stop for coffee.

She puts one pump of classic sweetener in her chai latte and says, “You’re right. There is nothing diabolical about a bad mortgage.”

He hesitates. He says, “Are you sure?”

She says, “Sure. What about the location?”

He says, “What about the howling?”

She says, “What about the recovery?”

He says, “What about the thousands of acres of clearcut and topsoil desecration?”

She says, “Hey, but what about the views?

He says, “What about digging through the gravesites of ancient Indians?”

She says, “What about the low-e windows?”

He says, “What about the blood stains that don’t wash off?”

She says, “What about the low interest rates?”

He says, “What about the incubus?”

She says, “What about the energy efficient appliances?”

He says, “What about the bite marks on the marble countertops?”

She says, “What about the parks and the botanical gardens?”

He says, “What about the sound of heavy footsteps on thick carpets?”

She says, “What about the excellent schools?”

He says, “What about the whispering and the ball that rolls down the hall?”

They park in the driveway and leave the motor running. The wind has died down; all is quiet and serene on this fall Friday in Hallow Park, a gated community.   

He says, or she says, “What about the realtor?”

She says, or he says, “What about the offer? What about this weekend? About 10 a.m.?”

Closing on October 1st, they have one month to pack and paint and have going away parties with live friends, and to announce their relocation on Facebook and Twitter. Everyone is happy for them; the tweets fly until the big day arrives.

Final tweet, October 31st, first night in the new house in Hallow Park:  “Some people swore that the house was haunted.”  Unfriended and seen no more, no one knows exactly what happened. Agreed upon is only one thing:

Nothing was ever the same again after that.

Wedding party

Today we join together in the bonds of holy matrimony this tuxedo and this cocktail shrimp. You may now dunk the bride. The best man and the maid of honor made a perfect complement to the bride and groom, best man resplendent in bowtie, cummerbund and purple hightops, the maid of honor a perfect fright in botox and Spanx. Their reception was protracted and unannounced either in the society pages or to their respective Facebook friends. The intoxicating combination of tin cans, canapés, lust and fear of commitment caused an alliance that haunted them for years after, waiting and hoping that no pictures would emerge through their various social networks.

And none did, for year after breathless year. The maid of honor finally let her hair down, stopped being afraid that she’d be recognized in photos with her hairpins in the upswept style that was required of maids and matrons alike in that unfortunate wedding party.  The best man apologized vaguely and without specifics to almost everyone at the wedding – the mother and father, the bartender, the in-laws and out-laws, the guy who made the cakes, the band, the singer who usually focuses on bar mitzvahs but  just this once for you old pal and who knows how much he regretted that.

Standing on that lawn after the ceremony, the bride and groom, the family, the friends, all engaged in the grip-n-grin, the grim rituals of commitment and nothing wrong with that, after all. When it all fell apart – the cake, the marriage, the open-shut case of open legs at a ceremony of fidelity and forsaking all others, etc etc – there wasn’t much left but the discarded invitations.

There were calligraphic promises and protestations of eternal love, with sparkling stars and little moons in the envelope and a promise of an open bar at the reception but not at the ceremony itself. The minister practiced the vows with the couple, declined the bachelor party but had his own bash with the ring-bearer’s father, which did eventually become an issue with the ring-bearer’s mother, but not as big an issue as either of them had thought it might be when and if it ever became a problem. But it didn’t.

At the end of the day, the wedding went well, the marriage as well as statistics would suggest, and the debauchery of the day did not turn the earth on its axis, although it did cause the moon to look back over her shoulder and wink, saucy little moon, who knows so much about love, marriage, and the multitudinous adventures within and without. With this and thee and I now pronounce and you may now ruled the day but not the weekend and certainly not the happily ever after.


Chipper Jones is the biggest finest cat in all of Corrales. He’s so fine and full of pluck you’d never know he came all the way from Georgia, although the sea still claps its hands at the memory of him. He was born behind a dumpster outside of a Walmart in Climax, Georgia, raised on milkshakes and grasshopper mint treats. He emigrated from Georgia to Utah, waving his long tail farewell at the Walmart greeters in their blue smocks, lightly stained with grape jelly and insect repellent. He messed with his share of silky-haired suburban dogs in Utah, leaving footprints on every white vehicle in his neighborhood and some abutting. Eventually, everyone knew, he was going to meet his come-uppance by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. A random phone call, a sinister note, an intruder with a flashlight and a net; a fine and free cat like Chipper Jones was a thorn in the side of certain people in Orem who did not approve of his wicked ways.

Espadrille Guaraches was working without papers for animal control. She was willing to work for cash and short hours, which allowed her to make extra money pole dancing at the Fringe, a bar in Orem, Utah that catered to people who drafted legislation in airless rooms. Espadrille has been mentioned in Ripley’s Believe It Or Not several times, once in conjunction with a 72 oz. steak, but that was before Orem, before meeting and greeting, before Chipper Jones.

This was during the time of nickel beers and doing the hustle and the shuffle and the 3.2 dance festival, and even the most holiest, most devout of pole dancing women in Utah knew how to hold their Rolling Rock. Espadrille was no different. Then one day, one night after hours actually, she and Chipper Jones met, woman to cat, in the alley behind the Fringe, and so began a romance, of sorts. Chipper was captured by animal control; it is just as true to say that animal control was captured by him.


There is velvet, of course. In velvet, I reach into darkness. My muffled hand, feeling around, grasps at the unidentifiable. This, is it a fork, or is it suspicion? The body of the fork is strong and direct, but the tines are uneven. Pointed, counterpointed. I reach my hand into velvet and find lust, hunger, discontent. They are warm, hollow, and jagged, as you might expect. The feeling of pity in a velvet bag is transient and easily lost.

Not all bags are velvet. Some are plastic, with the names of your local grocery store printed on them. I keep assorted fruits, nuts and vegetables in these bags. The acorns are prideful, the grapes are cliqueish. The pomegranate, as you might expect, is horny but unavailable. Damn you, pomegranate. The mixed greens are sullen and the lemons, resentful.

When the thin plastic splits and the fruits and nuts spill out and roll away, I pick them up and put everything in a simple cotton bag. The cotton bag holds the obvious – the angry jalapeno, the insincere plastic cutlery, the indecent potato peeler, the expired milk. Milk, so sweet on first taste, sours on long acquaintance. The cotton bag is washable, practical, brisk and either dull or has a secret life.

The secret life of the cotton bag is the silk lining. The silken lining holds these unmentionables: murderous rage, adulterous fantasies, dishonesty, gluttony, uncontrollable lust. It is a fluid and very durable bag. Reach your hand in, and prepare to be surprised. Secret threads ravel and unravel, weave, tangle and knot. Not your every day bag; silk is for special occasions.

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July 2020